Wyoming antique gun, artifact theft had wide reaching impact

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 1:07 PM

E.J. Conzola

CASPER, Wyo. -- The theft of antique guns and American Indian artifacts from a Casper historian's home harmed not only the victim, but the entire community, Natrona County Circuit Judge Catherine Wilking told one of the thieves Thursday before sending him to prison for six to eight years.

"You deprived Mr. Berst of his treasured items. You deprived this community of valued teaching opportunities," Wilking told Cody Warren Sylvester before pronouncing his sentence.

Syvlester and Lennace Louis Miller admitted to breaking into the garage of Casper historian and re-enactor Bruce Berst on Oct. 4. The items taken included a .36-caliber pistol, a reproduction 1861 British Enfield musket and a Civil War-era .45-caliber pistol, along with many Indian artifacts.

Miller was sentenced last week to five to eight years in prison. The two were ordered to pay nearly $10,000 in restitution for items that have not been recovered.

Berst, in an emotional statement before Wilking handed down the sentence, said the monetary loss was only one way in which the break-in harmed him and his family. Many of the items had "a high sentimental value" that cannot be replaced, and the crime left his wife doubting the safety of their home, he said.

The theft also left him feeling violated and betrayed, Berst said, his voice breaking. "I've dedicated my life to helping people like the defendant," he said, noting he had "crossed paths" with Sylvester before. "This is how this individual has paid me back."

"You cannot put a price on emotional damage," Berst said.

Miller has said they didn't know whose home they were burglarizing.

Assistant District Attorney Dan Itzen recounted Sylvester's lengthy criminal history, beginning when he was 14 years old. Sylvester has been given repeated chances by the legal system, but each time he "takes that opportunity to victimize someone else," Itzen said.

"Today those chances have ended for the defendant," he said.

The prosecutor also noted that the items taken were not things that could be easily sold for cash. The theft was an end in itself, he said. "They just did it, that's the bottom line," he said.

Sylvester's lawyer, Dylan Rosalez, asked the court to impose a lesser sentence, noting that his client had pleaded guilty and accepted responsibility for the crime. "For him, that's a big thing to do," Rosales said.

But Wilking was unswayed.

"It is clear to me that you have wasted multiple opportunities that have been afforded to you," she said.

Given an opportunity to address the court, Sylvester declined.

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